Kalamazoo City Commission Debates How Best to Manage Endowment

Jul 25, 2017

From left to right, Vice Mayor Don Cooney, City Manager Jim Ritsema and Mayor Bobby Hopewell at the commission meeting Monday evening
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Kalamazoo City Commissioners have more work ahead of them as they near a final vote on a permanent endowment for the city. The groundbreaking plan would use private donations to fix the city’s finances.

On Monday the city released a proposal for the foundation that would manage the endowment, tentatively named the Foundation for Excellence. A 13-member board would include city officials and “stakeholders” in areas such as the arts, education and housing.

At least one commissioner, Shannon Sykes, expressed concern about how well that board would represent underprivileged residents and how fully it would reflect the city's diversity. And one of the biggest questions on Monday was whether the city should take donations restricted to certain projects. So far the proposal doesn’t bar them, but Commissioner Matt Milcarek says the city has told the community it wouldn’t take conditional money.

“Our intent a year ago from my understanding was no strings attached. I would love to see that incorporated into the articles,” he said.

But City Attorney Clyde Robinson encouraged the board to think carefully before it bans restricted funds.

"You could get a donor who said, ‘Yeah I really am enthused about what we can do about generational poverty. I’m going to give you a one hundred million dollar gift to address generational poverty.’ Well, that’s right in the sweet spot of what this organization’s supposed to do.”

Kalamazoo needs to raise about half a billion dollars for the endowment to succeed. A large donation that Kalamazoo received last year is being used to cut property taxes. Commissioners had planned to vote on the Foundation on August 7 but now intend to wait till August 21.